In April 2020, at the height of the pandemic, WMCHealth announced that it was temporarily moving 60 mental health and substance abuse treatment beds at HealthAlliance Hospital in Kingston to MidHudson Regional, WMC’s hospital in Poughkeepsie, to make room for Covid-19 patients.
Later, representatives of WMCHealth decided to seek state approval to make that move permanent. At a recent rally in front of Kingston City Hall, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, along with some five dozen political, union and community leaders, called on the state to deny WMCHealth permission to eliminate inpatient psychiatric and substance abuse beds from Ulster County.
Ryan called WMC Health “heartless and clueless.” He pointed out that the suicide rate in Ulster County doubled from 2019 to 2020 and that fatal opioid and other drug overdoses went up 93 percent. And he cited the story we reported of a mentally ill man whose High Falls family took him to MidHudson Regional for psychiatric care, was kept waiting for 15 hours for a room, left without treatment and was found dead weeks later.
“They are not meeting the challenge,” said Ryan. And, Ryan says, they’re breaking a promise made to the taxpayers. WMCHealth received almost $90 million from New York State to construct a $135 million “Healthy Neighborhood Initiative” at its two Kingston locations. Ryan says a behavioral health unit that was supposed to be included in the 79,000-sq.-ft. addition at Mary’s Avenue is now off the table. Ryan wants the state Department of Health to suspend its approval and to stop construction.
Further infuriating community leaders was HealthAlliance’s mid-June decision to lay off 41 staff, including experienced and specialized nurses, claiming “redundancies to achieve operational efficiencies… with no reduction in bedside nursing.”
Nurse Lawrence Clayton, 49, says he feels blindsided by the layoffs caused by the consolidation of WMC and HealthAlliance. “It’s impossible to provide proper patient care.”
Clayton addressed the rally.
“Last night, I was dealing with an emergency and all the other nurses were swamped,” he said. “There was no one to pass out trays. So none of my patients got dinner. … It makes me sick to my stomach to have to explain to families why your loved one didn’t get dinner. I am the face of Westchester Med and that feels like hell.”
Specialty care technician Gabriel Valles said he is frustrated that patients often have to wait for hours or even days, without a shower, as staff search for psychiatric beds at faraway facilities.
In a statement to Hudson Valley One, HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley said the majority of patients needing mental health care are treated and released at its Emergency Dept at 296 Broadway, where Valles works. They said, “outpatient care for a range of behavioral health conditions is now considered a national norm.” Inpatient care continues to be offered in Poughkeepsie.
Ryan is calling on all Ulster County residents to sign this petition requesting the New York State Office of Mental Health and the Office of Addiction Services and Supports to deny WMCHealth Network’s application to decertify inpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment at HealthAlliance hospital. The petition also asks the NYS Department of Health to suspend approval of HealthAlliance’s Mary’s Avenue building and renovation project.
The Department of Health and the Office of Mental Health responded that they “plan to ask for an independent community needs assessment to better gauge the behavioral health needs in Ulster County and the surrounding region. The assessment will help Ulster County and the Westchester Medical Group in developing a plan to deliver appropriate and sufficient behavioral health services.”